Published in Ottawa Citizen on September 14, 2013
OTTAWA — Randy Hillier, as they say in the velvet alleys of parliament, was thrown under the bus this week.
Poor bus. We’ll see if it stays on the road after running over this live grenade.
Hillier, 55, is the MPP for Lanark-Frontenac-Lennox & Addington and, until Thursday, the PC labour critic.
He had a 30-minute phone conversation with leader Tim Hudak in which he was relieved of his critic duties, taken off a legislative committee and, literally, knocked to the back of the bus at Queen’s Park (from second to fourth row).
“I was very disappointed in the tone of our conversation,” he said Friday. “I thought it would be a professional and respectful and courteous discussion, but that didn’t happen.”
Hillier said he was given an ultimatum. “Be honest and be demoted, or be dishonest and keep your job.”
The outspoken member, first elected in 2007, said he was accused of leaking to the media an internal email he sent to caucus colleagues about concerns sparked by a fellow PC’s private member bill.
The bill, proposed by MPP Monte McNaughton, would release construction company EllisDon from a closed-shop union agreement dating back to 1958.
The undertone of the change was the PCs would, as a side effect, enjoy a financial benefit, presumably through enhanced corporate donations.
It had the whiff of money greasing the legislative wheels and Hillier was not afraid to warn his colleagues about it. (By law, MPPs are not to directly benefit from legislation.)
Somehow, his email got into the hands of the Toronto Star — but only months later — and the subsequent story left an impression of a caucus divided, maybe even keen to embarrass Hudak, who was coming off a lousy showing in byelections.
Hillier denies he leaked the email and says he still stands behind his objections to the bill.
“I was given an ultimatum for breaking caucus confidentiality, which I never once did, and (told to) retract the warning and concerns I raised about (the bill.)”
Hudak, in appointing McNaughton to the labour critic position, had a different take on the dispute.
“Politics is a team sport. And if somebody is not looking out for the team and our goal to turn the province around, I’m gonna put them on the bench.”
He referred to a pattern of behaviour on Hillier’s part, not a single act.
Hillier was careful Friday not to engage in debate about whether Hudak needs to be replaced.
“Tim is making his own choices and judgments. I expressed my concerns directly to him about this yesterday. This is the second critic, in colloquial terms, that he’s thrown under the bus in a week and I don’t think that serves him, or the party, or our electoral chances very well.”
The PCs are having a policy convention in London next weekend. Hillier was one of two MPPs to support a motion that could open the door to a leadership review. Is it ever a bad time, he wonders, to debate something as important as leadership?
He hinted, too, that any discord between Hudak and the party may not be over.
“I don’t know where all this is going to end up.”
Seriously, would it shock anyone if he were to leave caucus one day?
But he disputes the insinuation, like the one made by his leader, that he is not a team player. “I get it and understand it. I played teams sports for a long time.”
As for the current session of the Ontario legislature, Hillier says the prospects are not promising.
“I don’t think anybody’s being productive right now.
“I don’t know if you saw the hula-balloo over tanning beds,” he said, referring to a Liberal initiative to restrict the use and advertising of tanning beds to those over 18.
“Whatever you think about that legislation, I have never had a constituent call me and say this is a priority, to deal with tanning beds.”
How refreshing, really, to hear a politician question whether 107 MPPs are doing anything truly useful with their time at Queen’s Park.
“We need to get back to basics here and start connecting with the people who elect us and pay our wages.”
Hudak, frankly, is juggling knives with this issue.
Say what you want about Hillier, he has built a reputation on defending the rights of the little man against the unwanted intrusion of the state, big unions or big corporations.
He speaks, in other words, truth to power. Frankly, he seems to love the fight.
And he isn’t shutting up, and he isn’t going away.